Blessed by a Stranger
“Why should I wish to see God better than this day?… I find letters from God dropped in the street, and every one is signed by God’s name, And I leave them where they are, for I know that others will punctually come forever and ever.”
―Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
I have an eye for spotting vanity license plates. My fellow Mainers are wicked clevah, and I often chuckle out loud when I see their displays of wit drive past:
One year ago, at a red light, I found myself behind a car with a Breast Cancer Awareness plate — its border pink, bedecked with the familiar awareness ribbon — and the message: SAV THM. “Save them.” Save the ta-tas, the breasts, the women who are dying of this most common cancer.
This time, I didn’t chuckle. I began to weep. As I raised a hand to wipe my tears, I absent-mindedly scratched my bald scalp through my itchy wig.
Three days earlier, in the careful hands of excellent nurses and the gentle company of friends who love me, I’d sat in the chemotherapy treatment room of my local hospital, allowing a drip of toxins to move through my veins. I was fatigued and nauseous. I was learning that chemotherapy is a form of soul-loss: I hadn't just lost my healthy body and my hair; I'd lost a part of myself that I wouldn’t find again until months later. I did not yet know — because how can we know the full weight of loss at once? — that some of what I lost would be lost forever.
There we were, two strangers idling at the red light. I wondered who was in the car. Was it a breast cancer survivor? Or was it someone who had watched a family member undergo the medical onslaught that cancer unleashes? Had they survived? No matter: they knew. Whoever chose that plate knew a piece of my story, and had shouldered a portion of my loss.
I felt seen, and blessed, by a stranger.
The light turned green and we were both on our way.
Sweet All-That-Is, I don’t believe in “signs.” But I don’t have to believe in them to have experienced one. Thank you for your mysterious ways of reminding me that I’m not alone. Help me be that sign — of hope, of assurance, of witness — to someone who needs it today.